CLEVELAND -- Nothing is certain yet, but the Heat is hoping Greg Oden can be permanent fixture in its starting lineup.
Oden started for the second game in a row on Tuesday in Cleveland, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra would like Oden to remain in that position for the team’s push to the playoffs. With Oden playing the first six minutes or so of the first and third quarters, the Heat can theoretically address a number of concerns, including a potential matchup with Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs.
“There are a lot of different layers to it, but it cleans up some of the things with our rotation,” Spoelstra said. “It also guarantees we can get those minutes. I really like what he has been doing the last month or so.”
Oden played well defensively in his seven minutes in the first quarter and helped create some of the transition situations that led to LeBron James’ big first quarter. James had 25 points in the first 12 minutes of the game. That was a good sign, considering the Heat doesn’t want to disrupt the team’s rhythm by inserting Oden into the starting lineup.
“We actually want to create an environment where it’s not different,” Spoelstra said. “Obviously, from the shear size of what he brings to the game, there will be different benefits that hopefully we can take advantage of, but in terms of how we want to play — aggressiveness, imposing our identity — we want that to be the same.”
Of course, whether Oden’s knees can manage the stress is the biggest concern. The Heat will continue to closely monitor Oden’s knees and limit his minutes, but the game in Cleveland was another positive step. Oden played 14 minutes against the Cavaliers. His season-high in minutes per game entering Tuesday was 13.
“We like what he does, he does something different, but we’re still able to play our game,” Spoelstra said. “We won’t extend his minutes long, and it seems we can build it in pretty seamless in that starting unit.”
There is also a sense among the Heat’s coaching staff that Oden can contribute more consistently knowing that he will be playing the first six or so minutes of each half every game. Oden was having trouble finding offensive consistency while playing spot minutes, but Spoelstra noted the intimidating center “still found a way to contribute.”
James on Jackson
James had plenty to say before Tuesday’s game about Phil Jackson’s appointment as the Knicks’ new president of basketball operations.
“He brings a championship pedigree, and we all know that,” James said. “His résumé speaks for itself. … I think it’s exciting for them. It’s a fresh face and a guy who has been through everything and has had so much success in his career, so you think he could translate that into knowing personnel, to getting guys into the right places, to getting who can help other guys, so we’ll see what happens.”
Could Jackson transform the Knicks in the same way that Pat Riley built and then rebuilt the Heat?
“Riles was different when he came to Miami,” James said. “Riles came to Miami as a coach and Riles was younger as well … so it was different in that sense, but those are two Hall of Famers that we’re talking about that have played the game and coached and now orchestrating a front office as well.”
The obligatory “return to Cleveland” questions arose during James’ pregame news conference when a reporter asked James if he would like to return to Cleveland.
“As for right now, it’s too hard for me to think about,” James said. “We have less than 20 games until we gear up for no sleep, two months hopefully.
“So, for me to try to take my mind somewhere else when I know what’s on its way, it’s almost impossible.”